Urban Meyer is one of the most successful college football coaches of all time.
It’s worth seeing whether he can add to that success in the NFL. That’s the value decision the Jaguars will make when they reach an agreement with the three-time national championship coach, which is expected to be finalized Thursday, according to multiple reports.
Meyer, 56, gets a chance to prove it at the highest level, even if the hire is generally considered a risky move by a franchise that compiled a 12-36 record the last three seasons.
Meyer isn’t just a former college football coach — he’s one of the most accomplished in history. He had an .854 winning percentage between four coaching stops at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. The only FBS coaches with at least 100 wins and a higher winning percentage are Knute Rockne (.881) and Frank Leahy (.864).
Will he be more like Nick Saban or Pete Carroll at the next level? There should not be a rush to judgment, and this could go either way.
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Is Urban Meyer hire too risky?
Start with the health concerns. Meyer, 56, retired because of health concerns twice in college, ranging from chest pains to severe headaches. He left Florida after the 2010 season, took a year off, then returned to Ohio State. In his final season with the Buckeyes, Meyer was suspended for three games after mishandling domestic abuse allegations involving former assistant coach Zach Smith. Meyer spent the last two seasons as an analyst on Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” show, and he is fantastic in that role.
Meyer, however, has no coaching experience in the NFL. The go-to sentiment is Meyer won’t be able to handle the week-to-week failure in the NFL knowing his worst season as a head coach in college was an 8-5 with Florida in 2010.
Meyer’s offense, which typically relies on a power-running game, is another question. Ohio State averaged more than 200 yards rushing every year under Meyer from 2012-17 before his final season, in which the Buckeyes averaged 358.7 passing yards and 177 rushing yards. That was with offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who has shifted the offense to a pass-first model. Given the mesh between college and pro schemes, the questions about Meyer’s offense won’t truly be answered until he gets to the Jaguars.
Is there precedent? Meyer had 187 wins at the college level. The only coaches with more victories in college who coached in the NFL are Nick Saban (256), Lou Holtz (249) and Steve Spurrier (228).
Saban finished 15-17 with the Dolphins from 2005-06 before taking the Alabama job. Lou Holtz finished 3-10 with the Jets in 1976. Steve Spurrier finished 12-20 with Washington in 2002-03 before returning to coach in college at South Carolina.
Will Meyer follow down that road? Or will he follow the three former national championship coaches in college who won a Super Bowl?
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Urban Meyer can build a winner
Meyer also is a hyper-competitive motivator who had success with college rosters flush with NFL talent.
Who else did that? Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Pete Carroll. Johnson won a national championship with Miami in 1987 before leading the Cowboys to two Super Bowl championships. Switzer, who won three national championships, also won a Super Bowl with Dallas.
Carroll is the best modern example of a coach who had success at both levels. Carroll won two national championships in nine seasons with USC, and he just completed an 11th season with the Seahawks, reaching the playoffs in eight of those years. Seattle was 19-29 in the three seasons before Carroll arrived.
Sound familiar? That’s the best-case scenario for Meyer in trying to build a winner in Jacksonville. It’s possible.
The Jaguars have the No. 1 pick, which likely will be used to take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and more than $75 million in cap space. Meyer assembled five-star-studded rosters at Florida and Ohio State, and there are enough former Buckeyes in the NFL to form a team. Meyer should have enough to build a talented roster that can compete in the AFC South. The franchise quarterback is a good start.
More than any other job, the Jaguars offered the opportunity to shape the roster going forward as one sees fit:
📈11 draft picks in 2021, including #1 and 7 in the first four rounds
💰 North of $75M in 2021 cap space, most in the NFL
A ton of work to do, but resources to use.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 14, 2021
There is a mesh between college and NFL concepts, and it is worth watching the coaching staff that Meyer assembles. Keep in mind former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was considered a huge risk when Arizona hired him in 2019. The Cardinals are 13-18-1 the last two seasons and just missed the playoffs with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. Meyer isn’t comparable to Kingsbury, Chip Kelly, Bobby Petrino or Lane Kiffin in terms of overall success.
Meyer is better than all of those coaches.
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How Urban Meyer can succeed
It is easy to predict a crash-and-burn scenario here, but that underestimates Meyer’s track record of success and his ability to motivate players.
It comes down the relationship between Meyer and Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan. Patience will be required from both sides given the Jaguars are coming off a 1-15 season. The Jaguars had their most successful stint in franchise history from 1996-99 with Tom Coughlin, who made the jump from Boston College to the pros. There will need to be ego checks on both sides over the next few seasons, or this will never work.
Saban, Spurrier and Holtz feuded with their respective ownership in the NFL. So did Johnson and Switzer. Carroll is the best example of a coach who has thrived at the next level with his owners. Meyer must follow that example and use the connections he’s made through the college game.
The Ohio State NFL pipeline helped Meyer develop relationships with NFL coaches, and he undoubtedly spent the last two years learning from other coaches. Meyer’s name was linked to USC and Texas the past two seasons, and those jobs never materialized. That says this was the opportunity he was waiting for all along. It also could be argued he faces less overall pressure to succeed at Jacksonville than he did at two national championship-or-bust programs at the college level.
Will Meyer be more like Saban or Carroll at the next level? It feels like something in between at the outset.
At least Jacksonville is worth watching again.